A pristine beach and new see-and-be-seen hotels and restaurants are boosting the Faena District in Miami.

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On a recent Saturday night in Miami, the modern Asian restaurant Pao at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach sizzled. A well-dressed crowd filled the circular eatery, while gaping at the half-red, half-gold Damien Hirst unicorn sculpture towering over the room on a gold pedestal.

There was even more action in the largest of the hotel’s five bars, the Living Room. There, the rich red tones juxtaposed with animal print fabrics exuded glamour, and glitterati clutched colorful cocktails and champagne flutes while eyeing the happening scene. Maybe they hoped for a star sighting? Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna and Rita Ora had recently been at the hotel. Who would show on this night? As the evening wore on, the line outside the bar swelled.

If the hotel wasn’t the epicenter of Miami that night, it seemed to come close. In fact, if Alan Faena, the Argentine co-owner, has his way, the property and surrounding blocks in the city’s Mid-Beach neighborhood would have this level of buzz all the time.

Rise of the Faena district

Faena, an entrepreneur from Buenos Aires, and his business partner, the New York-based Len Blavatnik, are transforming the area’s faded hotels and condominiums into the Faena District, a six-block project that comprises the 169-room hotel, the 50-room hotel Casa Claridge’s, three condominium buildings, a cultural center and a retail complex. Blavatnik is financing the $1.2 billion venture, while Faena serves as the creative mind.

A Damien Hirst unicorn sculpture doinates the Asian restaurant Pao at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach.
A Damien Hirst unicorn sculpture doinates the Asian restaurant Pao at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach.

The Faena district, which received official designation as a Miami Beach district in late 2014, is a 10-minute walk north of South Beach and the centerpiece of Mid-Beach’s emerging status as a hot destination.

Other players on the scene

While the Faena district may be a big driver in the Mid-Beach face-lift, it has received help from a couple of new see-and-be-seen hotels. The Confidante, a 380-room midcentury inspired property, entered the neighborhood with a splash in November 2014. And last November, the buzz around the beachfront hotel amplified when “Top Chef” alum Dale Talde opened a third outpost of his Asian-American eatery, Talde, inside the hotel.

Next came the Miami Beach Edition. The 3-1/2-acre resort, from hotelier Ian Schrager, stands out for its entertainment area, with a bowling alley, ice rink and nightclub. Lauded chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is heading up the Edition’s food and beverage program and overseeing the resort’s two restaurants: the casual Italian-inspired Market at Edition and the fine-dining Matador Room, a modern Latin eatery.

Lauded chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten oversees Miami Beach Edition’s Matador Room.
Lauded chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten oversees Miami Beach Edition’s Matador Room.

Beach was the draw

For Faena, the area’s potential for reinvention was crystal clear from the outset. “This prime part of Miami with the most beautiful beach was sitting there undeveloped,” he said, wearing his signature off-white suit and Panama hat as he surveyed the glossy crowd in his namesake hotel.

He and Blavatnik have collaborated since 2000 when they started reviving the abandoned docklands of Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires into what is now one of the city’s most attractive neighborhoods. It includes a cultural quarter, residences and a chic hotel.

A standout hotel

The Faena Hotel Miami Beach opened last November and occupies the former Saxony Hotel, a mainstay in the 1950s and ‘60s for Hollywood icons such as Frank Sinatra. Film director Baz Luhrmann, his wife, Catherine Martin, an Academy Award-winning costumer designer, and Faena conceived the art deco fantastical aesthetic. The property has all the frills of luxury, such as butler service for every guest and a spa. More distinctive are the 150-seat theater, home to a cabaret-style show on weekends, and a pristine 100,000-square-foot swath of beach.

Shopping and cultural centers

The Faena district’s other components surround the hotel; Casa Claridge’s and the condo Faena House are open, while the others are still to debut.

An artist rendering of the Faena Forum, a cultural center designed by architect Rem Koolhaas.
An artist rendering of the Faena Forum, a cultural center designed by architect Rem Koolhaas.

Faena Bazaar, a retail complex designed by Rem Koolhaas, the renowned architect, is scheduled to open this fall, the other two residential buildings will come next year, and Faena Forum is expected to debut this fall. This circular shaped 43,000-square-foot cultural center, also designed by Koolhaas, has exhibition halls and two event spaces and will host performances and art exhibitions from global names.

For some locals, all the Faena hype is justified. Lee Schrager, a longtime Miami resident and founder of the well-regarded South Beach Wine & Food Festival, says that he was skeptical when he heard about the project more than three years ago but is impressed as it’s come to life. “I thought the Faena District was a lot of talk, and even without it being fully done, it has turned Mid-Beach, a neighborhood no one really knew about, into the place to be,” he said.